Theatre set to take over Royal Hall

HARROGATE Theatre is set to take over the running of the Royal Hall, following a historic meeting this week.

It plans to host 60 artistic and cultural events at the venue in the first year, and has already booked big-name acts including Edward and Emilia Fox and Elaine Paige.

If all goes to plan, the theatre - which held a joint board and trustees meeting for the first time in its history on Monday to unanimously agree the move - would take over on April 1.

The deal, said to be “unlikely” two weeks ago due to a row over funding, is expected to be formally approved by Harrogate Council when it meets to discuss the proposals on February 8.

In a statement, Harrogate Theatre said talks with the authority - which owns the venue - would continue, to ensure details were agreed in time for the crunch meeting.

David Bown, chief executive at Harrogate Theatre said: “This is a very exciting partnership between the theatre and Harrogate Borough Council to create one of the most thrilling cultural offers in the region, if not the country.

“Also in these difficult times it will contribute to the local economy in a meaningful way.”

Earlier this month, a director of the theatre said a council grant of £150,000 had been proposed and then withdrawn.

But this week, Harrogate Council welcomed the decision, with leader Don Mackenzie saying it marked “an important new milestone” in the partnership between the authority and the theatre, which he said represented a contribution on behalf of the taxpayer of almost £200,000.

“We intend to make a substantial grant payment of £105,000 to the theatre, in addition to making the Royal Hall available with all its facilities including heating and lighting, technical equipment and staff, cleaning, repairs and maintenance, at no cost to the theatre,” he said.

This week, Twitter users praised the management of Harrogate Theatre but said they had concerns about the enormity of the task it was taking on.

Johanna Straker said: “Harrogate Theatre have a professional team who run the theatre well. The Royal Hall is a fantastic venue and should be used more.”

A spokesman for White Rose BNI Group said the Royal Hall was largely redundant as it charged “top dollar” for use.

Graham Hyde said: “It seems dangerous to me. RH losing money could maybe bring down the theatre, then we have only the HIC left.”

Matthew Bourne said he would rather see acts like Jools Holland in the Royal Hall than in a “sterile conference auditorium”, a view echoed by many.

Meanwhile, Harrogate’s largest music venue is drastically reducing the number of entertainment events it holds each year.

Harrogate International Centre (HIC), which has previously played host to artists like Van Morrison, Katherine Jenkins, McFly, Ray Davies and Cliff Richard, has yet to announce any concerts post-March, aside a Jubilee celebration during August’s Classic Fest.

In a statement to the Advertiser, a spokesman acknowledged a change in priorities, but stopped short of offering any firm details.

She said: “Entertainments, whilst popular, can be very resource heavy in terms of staffing and when balanced with the low profit margins generally derived from the entertainment sector it made very clear business sense to take a reactive, rather than a proactive stance, to entertainment enquiries for the HIC auditorium - this business approach is totally separate to the Royal Hall strategy.

“Therefore, at this current time, and obviously this is under regular review, the venue has consolidated its focus using its already efficient resource base, on markets which will bring a great yield to the centre and to the town.”